The Parabolic Teachings in the Synoptic Gospels

Walter Schmithals

JHC 4/2 (Fall 1997),  3-32.
Copyright © Institute for Higher Critical Studies, 1996

FOR the past hundred years, investigation of the parabolic teachings (Gleichnisreden) has been connected with the two-volume work of Adolf Jülicher.1 In part two of his work Jülicher deals consecutively with comparisons (Gleichnisse) in the narrow sense, the parables (Parabeln), and the four example stories (Beispielerzählungen), found only in Luke, which, as their name indicates, do not portray the intended subject matter in a comparative way, but exemplify and directly summon a corresponding response, or imitation. With comparisons in the narrow sense the narrator refers to a generally understandable incident in everyday life and would like the hearer to transfer his or her spontaneous assent to this incident to the spiritual-religious circumstances expressed by the pictorial comparison. Parables, on the contrary, relate an individual incident, a unique event, and by means of its narrative peculiarity directs the hearer's attention to the subject matter portrayed in the vividness of the story. In Jülicher's opinion, all three types of parabolic stories always intend to depict, or exemplify, a single idea, for which reason an allegorical interpretation, that equates the individual pictures and concepts of the parabolic story, one by one, with particular ideas and circumstances, does not do justice to the original meaning of parabolic teachings. Given these presuppositions, Jülicher was convinced that "the parabolic teachings of the Gospels go back to the historical Jesus,"2 because "such an original and dignified way of speaking can only be skilfully used by a genius, but not employed like something commonplace by his biographer."3

The Message of the Parabolic Teachings of Jesus: History of Research

THIS JUDGMENT constitutes the conclusion of the chapter "The Authenticity of the Parabolic Teachings of Jesus," with which Jülicher opens his two-volume work, and it remains the presupposition largely taken for granted by scholars who have interpreted the parabolic material since Jülicher, even if in other respects they more or less critically dispute with him and derive a different message from the parabolic stories than Jülicher did. In the parabolic stories Jülicher found expressed the great abundance of that universal religious and moral truth that generally determined the life-of-Jesus theology of his time. Fiebig's view, for example, was similar, although he was by no means willing to separate all allegorical elements from the parables of Jesus:4 "Through their delightful originality and vividness, but above all through the great, universal human subject matter which they serve... they bear in themselves surety that no one could have created them but Jesus alone."5

The interpretation of parables soon fell under the spell of the apocalyptic character of the kingdom of God discovered by Johannes Weiss,6 and its orientation on this central eschatological theme of the message of Jesus led to a more or less unifying, although certainly not unified, explanation of the parables as an expression of Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God. Leonhard Ragaz interpreted the parables in the sense of religious socialism, warning us against a false waiting for the kingdom of God to arrive and urging the overcoming of social conflicts already in the present.7 Joachim Jeremias analyzed the parabolic stories in a persistent search for the iprissima vox Jesu, because only "the Son of Man himself and his words" can establish the Christian message,8 and reached the conclusion that Jesus "obviously did not become weary of setting forth his message in new images,"9 namely, "the certainty of the 'self-realizing' eschatology. The hour of fulfillment has arrived,"10 and Jesus is Saviour, who opens the way for sinners into the kingdom of God and opens the door of the Father's house to the poor and wretched. For Charles H. Dodd as well, the parabolic teachings of Jesus bear "the stamp of a highly individual mind,"11 indeed, a mind who understands his work as the realization of the eternal kingdom of God again and again experienced in the present. Dan Otto Via understands the parabolic teachings of Jesus as the expression of a particular understanding of existence that Jesus wants to introduce into the situation of his hearers, and is also implicit in the central theme of Jesus' proclamation, the apocalyptic message of the coming rule of God.12

For Eberhard Jüngel, who, as a pupil of Ernst Fuchs, set forth his explanation of parables in the context of the "new quest for the historical Jesus," the kingdom of God is likewise the theme of the parabolic teachings. But these teachings make the kingdom present to the hearers in such a way that the imperceptible rule of God "finds linguistic expression in parables as parables."13 The form and content of parabolic teachings, therefore, are merged, and in view of the "language-event" fulfilled in the parabolic speech as such, the abstract question regarding a particular point of comparison for each individual parable appears to be inappropriate. According to Jüngel, therefore, while Jesus without doubt makes use of the familiar picture-world and common forms of parabolic speech, he nevertheless urges his hearers that in connection with his preaching of the kingdom of God they understand what is ordinary in entirely extraordinary ways. In a similar way, Hans Weder explains the parabolic teachings of Jesus, which do not merely employ individual metaphors, but must themselves be conceived as metaphors. They cannot, therefore, be translated into another kind of conceptuality, but at most can only be circumscribed, if they are to fulfill their task and allow the transcendent kingdom of God to become an event in the world at hand.14 Weder also conceives his explanation of the parabolic teachings with reference to the "new quest for the historical Jesus." Jesus' parables and Jesus' conduct interpret one another; but only the keyrgma of the cross and resurrection, which the parables "anticipate," brings the message of the parables in truth. In the context of the "New Quest," Eta Linnemann remains closely united with the traditional interpretation and Julicher's categories, and so also with her teacher, Ernst Fuchs. She disagrees with them, however, about the presence of an "imminent expectation" in the preaching of Jesus. Rather, in the parabolic teachings "the future and present aspects of the reign of God are related to one another in a new way."15 That is, the breaking in of the reign of God does not bring about the end of time, but opens up "time for..." François Vouga takes to the extreme the emerging tendency, visible with Jüngel and Weder, to distance the parabolic teachings of Jesus from the character of comparison, or a distinction beween "pictorial components" and "subject components." He claims that the parabolic teachings of the Jesus-tradition first developed into comparisons only in the later community from mere stories, with which Jesus confronted the hearer, in dramatic ways, with certain kinds of human behavior to guide them thereby to proper conduct.16

One could continue the conceptions of parables and their interpretation that have been set forth during the past 100 years almost without limit without any essential change in the overall impression: it is continually assumed that the synoptic parable tradition contains the central message of Jesus. Every investigator, however, discovers in the parables the reflection of his own theological ideas, and at the same time is convinced that he derived these ideas from the parables of Jesus. If Albert Schweitzer showed, with regard to the life of Jesus theology of the previous century, that in each case the diverse conceptions of the religious personality of Jesus reflected the personality of his biographer,17 so in the twentieth century this has continued with little change: Jesus preached in his parables as his interpreters also are accustomed to preaching. This impression would become stronger if we could consider the wealth and diversity of the tradition-historical analyses of individual parables. For each interpreter discards what does not accord with his presupposed picture of the preaching of Jesus as historically later tradition, and discovers in this way as the "Jesuitic core" and "original meaning" of the various parabolic teachings something that may often be different from what his colleagues find, but consistently that which dovetails with his entire picture. While form-critical interpreters still advised moderation, since "we do not know the original reference of many parables,"18 or because "for many parables... the original meaning has become unrecognizable in the course of the tradition,"19 and we must furthermore reckon with the possibility that "community constructions are also present,"20 today with great certainty, based on a far-reaching premise regarding the uniqueness of the message of Jesus, a specific judgment is generally made concerning the ipsissima vox of every single parabolic teaching and concerning their later tradition-history, whereby the diverse premises proliferate into a multitude of differing individual opinions.

Methodological Problems in the Interpretation of Parables

IS THE FACT that the interpretation of parables throughout the history of research seems to follow prior judgments regarding the proclamation of Jesus rather than specific exegetical findings grounded in the methodological difficulty that the original parabolic teachings of Jesus must be reconstructed from exclusively literary traditions of the post-apostolic age? This difficulty is clearly evident, as is shown in an exemplary way by the fact that even Jülicher's fundamental criterion, the exclusion of allegorical elements from the parabolic teaching of Jesus, is no longer taken for granted.21 The question soon arose as to why Jesus, who apparently so fully understood how to make use of different forms of pictorial speech, should not also have made use of allegorical methods,22 and the interpretation of parables oriented the concept of metaphor regarded the "distinction of allegory and parable" as altogether "inappropriate."23

Form-critical interpretation was nevertheless convinced that the gospel materials deposited in tradition, which can be perceived on the literary level, could be rendered into the material of an oral tradition prior to this level, the existence of which one was increasingly convinced in the last half the preceeding century, and that in such a way the original constituents of the gospel materials could be ascertained with sufficient certainty. Ever since Jülicher, the investigation of parables has also proceeded in this methodological way - to be sure, without the optimism of form-critical interpretation having been confirmed - with a relatively certain scholarly consensus that the origin of the synoptic tradition is perceptible somewhere behind a phase of oral mediation. The reason for this is readily sought today in the fact that, in contrast to the process of form-criticism, the method of literary tradition-criticism cannot be applied to the materials of oral tradition,24 so that methodological access to this phase of the tradition is not possible for us. This phase itself, however, and conseqently the roots of the synoptic parabolic teachings mediated to us in the proclamation of the earthly Jesus, is nevertheless generally presupposed, without a better way having appeared to illuminate the "urhistorical darkness." Already in 1970, therefore, Erhardt Güttgemanns rightly asked whether it would not be more responsible to completely abandon such illumination: "On account of the often substantial differenences in tradition-historical results, the 'urhistorical' territory appears, in any case, to be very shaky ground, so that one must be persuaded of the certainty that it is able to bear such a load..., where in the 'urhistorical' darkness nothing else can be seen than what one wants to see on the basis of certain premises."25 The results of investigation of the parables confirms this critical judgment to a great extent. Nevertheless, such criticism goes only half way. It needs to be radicalized so as to deal also with the pathos of the endeavor.

The Problematic of the Thesis of an Oral Tradition

SUCH RADICAL CRITICISM maintains that the idea that the parabolic teachings recorded in the gospels were transmitted by the original hearers in a wide stream of oral reports, which each of the individual gospel writers made use of, is a fiction. A wide stream of oral tradition like that gererally presupposed in the investigation of parables never existed.

Of least importance in this regard might be the observation that the parabolic teachings in the Gospels contain no indication of the 'context' in which they were transmitted. Since the parabolic teachings, whether one interpretes them in general or individually, refer in every case to a state of affairs that finds expression only indirectly, they must have been accompanied by a corresponding reference in their oral transmission if they were not to be reduced to mere perspicuity. For the efficacy of such references is characteristic for metaphorical language itself at most in exceptional instances. On the literary level, when an introductory reference or an explicit interpretation is absent, the context in the Gospel usually takes over the task of disclosing the meaning of the parable. In which way this task makes use of the presupposed oral tradition, however, cannot be determined. To be sure, the parables in general are meant to be "kingdom of God parables"; but even the brief introduction "The kingdom of God is like...," or "The kingdom of heaven is like...," usually belongs first to the redactional-literary level of the tradition, and the fact that one can dispute any original connection at all of the parabolic teachings of Jesus with the kingdom of God26 sufficiently shows how "empty" the presupposed pre-literary tradition must have been in this regard. For one can hardly assume that the traditional references disappeared without trace in the transition from oral tradition to writing. If one looks at the literary context (Rahmen) of the parables, therefore, one can discern nothing about their oral tradition.

More important is the general observation that outside the literary Gospels before us and independent from them no trace can be discovered of the wide stream of oral traditions of parabolic teachings which according to the prevailing conception flowed into the synoptic Gospels and around the end of the first century still reached Matthew and Luke independently of one another. The pre-Pauline traditions as well as Paul himself and the deutero-Pauline writings take little notice of any kind of the parabolic teachings of Jesus. Even the rest of the early Christian writings, until the time of the apostolic fathers, reveal no knowledge of analogous parabolic material. Wherever we do encounter parable-like teachings in this literature-e.g., 1 Cor 3:5-10; 12:12-31; 1 Clem 20; 37; Hermas-these are related to the synoptic parabolic teachings of Jesus in neither form nor content. The fact that the remaining synoptic material is also generally unfamiliar to these writings is not able to explain deficit of parabolic material, but only sharpens the problem before us.

To a certain extent, it is understandable that the liberal theologians and their followers, who searched backward from the christological kerygma of the incarnation, cross and resurrection to illuminate the life of the earthly Jesus and his ipsissima vox, gave little attention to the question in what way the parabolic teachings of Jesus, which had been similarly swallowed up by the Christ kerygma, nevertheless came to be transmitted into the Gospel writings. That the representatives of the "New Quest for the Historical Jesus," however, whose orientation was characterized by a preference for the parabolic teachings, also ignored the problem before us is inexcusable, since the "New Quest" is explicitly concerned with the continuity between the historical Jesus and the kerygmatic Christ. And when in the context of such continuity it is said that the truth of the parables of Jesus is disclosed "with the event of nearness of God on Easter,"27 an explanation is required as to why the parabolic teachings are not encountered in the context of the Easter kerygma, where they supposedly first saw the light of day, but only within the later Gospel literature. The absence of such an explanation is a clear confirmation that the presupposed picture of the tradition of the parabolic teachings of Jesus has no basis in historical reality.

A corresponding observation can be made with regard to transmission of parables by the Gospel writers themselves. The investigation of parables in the past century is based in general on the two-source hypothesis, and consequently rightly begins with the view that Matthew and Luke appropriated the parabolic stories presented by Mark and the Q-source. At the same time, however, as is shown by the numerous parables from their "special material," Matthew and Luke presumably stood in a living oral stream of parabolic tradition, which even included "doublets" of those parabolic teachings transmitted in literary versions by Mark and the Sayings Source. In Matthew and Luke, however, there is no sign of this parallel oral tradition; and even if scholars arrive at totally different conclusions with regard to the original parabolic preaching of Jesus, they are nevertheless in general agreement that the deviations in Matthew and Luke from Mark and the Sayings Source derive from redactional interventions of the later gospel writers, not however from orally transmitted "doublets." From this it can be inferred with much more confidence that Matthew and Luke did not derive such doublets from oral tradition, since according to a wide-spread ancient custom, the living oral tradition of eye witnesses is to be preferred over written sources (e.g., Papias, in Eusebius, HE 3.39.4; Polyb. 12.28a, 7; Josephus, Apion 1.46; Lucian, De syria Dea, incipit).

Consideration of the parabolic teachings of Jesus belonging to Matthew and Luke's special material leads to a similar observation. According to the prevailing view, both Matthew and Luke took over this special material from the broad stream of oral tradition in which they stood. Given this assumption, however, it is surprising that in no instance does their special material overlap. For the parabolic material that they share in common in addition to that derived from Mark, if only because of its linguistic contiguity, rightly leads investigators back to an earlier literary strata, the Sayings Source. The chance, however, that Matthew and Luke, without having mutual knowledge of one another, each appropriated from the same oral tradition only those parabolic teachings that the other did not is too improbable for one to consider at all this oral tradition as a common source.

If the existence of an oral tradition of the parabolic teachings of Jesus can nowhere be demonstrated, however, and if we encounter the parables exclusively in literary forms, one must reckon in the main with their literary origin. The old conception that the synoptic parables, because of their originality in form and content, could have derived only from an extraordinary genius, namely Jesus, is for good reason no longer repeated today. So when Linnemann expresses the conviction that Jesus employed the stylistic form of parables "with particular mastery," she does so with the presupposition that the parable was "a special, commonly used form of speech." "Jesus was by no means the first teller of parables. He did not invent this stylistic form, but appropriated it."28 One must add that Jesus was also not the last teller of parables and that there are no parabolic teachings in the synoptic tradition which, as such, cannot be ascribed to one of the Gospel writers or some other story teller. Parabolic teachings are already known in the Old Testament; the apocalyptic writings of Judaism are filled with them; the rabbinic parables are very often much like the parabolic teachings in the Jesus tradition.29 Even Hellenism made use in many ways of various forms of parabolic teaching.30 Alongside parables reworked from the synoptic tradition, apocryphal gospels like the Gospel of Thomas also relate new parables without reservation. The still prevailing conception, therefore, that parabolic teachings as such are an indication of their orgin in the mouth of Jesus is naive. And what is more, the value and truth of the parabolic teachings does not depend on their origin, but resides in themselves.

If one looks at the parable tradition of the synoptic Gospels from this critical position, it is confirmed, for reasons related to content as well, that in many instances this tradition does derive from a stream of tradition reaching back to the vita Jesu.

Parabolic Teachings in Luke's Special Material

LUKE'S SPECIAL MATERIAL includes, first of all, the four example stories: the good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-35), which sets forth love of neighbor in an exemplary way; the wealthy farmer (Lk 12:16-20), which cautions against trust in earthly possessions; the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31), which reflects a corresponding idea in a wider context; and the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:10-14), which places humility against self-righteousness. These example stories belong to a Gattung of their own, which indeed resembles parable stories in character, except that "any figurative element is entirely absent,"31 and metaphorical language is also foreign. It is highly improbable that these example stories came down to Luke in a stream of oral tradition of the teaching of Jesus without previously making themselves known through a trace of any kind. Nor do they show any sign of having been pased on in Christian circles for three generations. On the contrary, they are thoroughly and deeply rooted in Jewish-hellenistic tradition. The story of the good Samaritan disavows priests and Levites, the representatives of religious leaders in Jerusalem, and over against them raises up the Samaritan, despised by orthodox Jews, as an example of compassion - the reflection of a liberal synagogue, that stands distant from the Temple cult, sees all commandments to be fulfilled in the command to love one's neighbor, and even includes devout Gentiles in their fellowship, who, if they fulfill the commandment of love, are better members of the Jewish community. The story of the wealthy farmer contains a piece of wisdom widely circulated in Judaism (cf. Psalm 39:7; 49:7-21) and retold in Sirach 11:18-19. The essential motifs in the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus are also found in old Egyptian stories and in Jewish legends; Moses and the prophets are the full and sufficient religious authorities; Lazarus bears the hellenized Eleasar ("God helps") as a name and sits in the lap of Abraham, who is a father of many nations (Gen 17:5); the conception of afterlife is that of hellenistic Judaism. Finally, the beautiful example story of the Pharisee and the tax collector juxtaposes two Jewish types, but shows no sign of any debate between Jesus, or the Christian community, and the Pharisees; and that the Temple is regarded as a house of prayer locates the story in hellenistic Judaism. From all this it follows that Luke took over the four example stories in his Gospel from the teaching material of hellenistic Judaism, with which he was closely related in many respects, and inserted them in his Gospel with his own meaning.

In chapter 15 Luke presents three parables, two of which belong to his special material, and all of which make the same statement. The parable of the lost sheep, on which they are based, derives from the Sayings Source. Luke, however, already shifts the traditional focus of this parable from the motif of seeking to that of finding again and the joy over what was found; and these ideas find expression as well in the two parables from Luke's special source, concerning the lost coin and concerning the lost son, who returns without being sought for at all. Moreover, with regard to the ninty-nine sheep it is expressly noted that they resemble the righteous who do not need to return, or, as the case may be, need to repent, and this corresponds to the older brother in the parable of the lost son, who remained with the father the entire time. These Lukan specifics clearly reflect the meaning of the three parables in the context of Luke's Gospel and the situation of his community. As has often been observed, Luke writes in rememberance of an intense persecution of Christians, that led to sizable defection. After the persecution eased, the problem arose as to whether the defectors, if they returned to the community in repentance, should be accepted again. The older brother represents those faithful members of the community, who oppose a "second repentance" by the apostates. With all three parables, however, Luke makes it clear that the community should again accept those who repent, because God accepts them again; for "in heaven" there is more joy over one sinner who returns than over many who remain faithful, who remained in their father's house and do not need to return. This idea is obviously especially important for Luke, when he gives it vivid expression three times. And because the corresponding problem fully reflects the acute situation in which the Gospel of Luke was written, the incontrovertable assumption is that Luke not only reworked the traditional parable of the lost sheep in a consistent way, but also that the doublet of the lost coin and the impressive story of the two sons, both of which are original creations and show no signs of any reworking, were composed by Luke himself.32

Another triad of parabolic teachings is found in the parables of the begging friend (Lk 11:5-8), the begging son (Lk 11:11-12), and the begging widow (Lk 18:2-5). The parable of the begging son is found also in Mt 7:9-10, and consequently was taken over by Luke from the Sayings Source. The two parallel parables belonged to Luke's special material, and may have been related by Luke himself in accordance with the begging son story. All three parables express the certainty that unceasing prayer is heard. The tripling of the original parable shows how important this idea also is for Luke; and such importance is again grounded in the concrete situation of the community threatened by persecution in Luke's own time. Regardless of how the original parable is understood, Luke relates all three parables to the situation of his community. The parable of the begging son concerns the prayer for the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13), who will provide the appropriate word for the confessor before the tribunal of the persecutors (Lk 12:11-12). The parable of the begging widow is related to the coming of the Son of Man, who will establish the final justification of the elect against their oppressors (Lk 18:7-8). And by connecting the parable of the begging friend with the Our Father prayer (Lk 11:11-4), Luke locates it in the same eschatological horizon as the parable of the begging widow; for in Luke's understanding the Our Father prayer begs in particular for the reign of God that brings freedom from every oppression, for daily bread for those who are dispossessed because of their confession, for the forgiveness of sins for those who themselves forgive their persecutors (cf. Lk 23:34), provides assurance with regard to the coming judgment, and for protection from the temptation of defection in view of the threatening persecution. This kind of situational relatedness, which first appears in Luke's parables of the begging friend and the begging widow, confirms that we have to do in these instances with Lukan creations.

Other parables from Luke's special material also address the situation of persecution. In Lk 14:26-33 Luke applies two traditional sayings, which emphasize the seriousness of discipleship, to the concrete situation of his time: the Christian must be prepared to give up all family ties - Luke apparently has the exile of confessors in mind - and in the extreme case to endure even martyrdom, like his crucified Lord. Two parables clarify the seriousness of such discipleship: whoever wants to build a tower will give up such a project when he determines that the cost exceeds his wealth (14:28-30), and whoever is attacked by an overwhelming enemy begs for peace before he is defeated (14:31-32). The applications that follow these parables have in view the usual punishment for persecuted confessors, namely, confiscation of their possessions: "So also every one of you who does not renounce all he has cannot be my disciple" (14:33). This application is characteristic for Luke's so-called "poverty piety," which does not have a general social background, but must be interpreted entirely with regard to the situation of persecution: the confessor is threatened with the loss of possessions, and whoever still has possessions must support the one from whom everything has been taken. Given this specifically Lukan application, the two parables themselves, which derive their imagery from everyday experience and are not known outside of Luke, may be redactional compositions of Luke the evangelist.

Luke concludes an extended speech to the disciples, setting forth various rules of conduct for the community, with the parable of the servant who can expect no special reward when he does what is his duty (17:7-10). This parable also belongs to Luke's special material. The theme of the parable, undemanding service of God, is also found in both Hellenism and Judaism, and the parable itself might have its home in Judaism, or Jewish Christianity, if it was not first constructed by Luke to illustrate the wide-spread idea that serves as its basis.

The parable of the unfruitful fig tree (Lk 13:6-9) derives likewise from Luke's special material, and likewise employs familiar imagery. Luke places this parable at the end of a speech having to do with repentance, which is introduced with two parables from the Sayings Source, which warn against missing the signs of the imminent End (Lk 12:54-59). For the fig tree, however, additional time is made available to bear fruit. We peer, therefore, into the situation at the time of Luke, in which the End has not come and the additional time granted is interpreted as a time of divine patience to make up for neglected repentance. Luke may also have constructed this parable himself, or taken it from Jewish tradition, as he did in the preceeding scenes of the bloodbath carried out by Pilate among the Galileans and the collapse of the tower of Siloam.

The recommendation to take a lesser seat at a dinner party rather than a higher one (Lk 14:7-11) is not a parable, but a wide-spread wisdom teaching (cf. Prov 25:6f.). Luke may have first interpreted this recommendation as a parable, and related it to the likewise widely known saying that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted, presumably, in view of the humuliation that his persecuted communities take upon themselves in the expectation of being exalted by God in his own time.

There is only one parable in the Lukan special material that with some certainty goes back to pre-Lukan tradition, namely the parable of the dishonest steward (Lk 16:1-7), for there can be no doubt that the interpretation Luke gives to this parable, in the context of his "poverty piety," and the exhortation to unselfish dealing with earthly possessions, is inappropriate for the parable itself. To be sure, the original meaning of the parable is debated, and its origin is unclear. It is conceivable that it stood in the Sayings Source and was deleted by Matthew because of its offensive story.

Parabolic Teachings in Matthew's Special Material

ALL the parabolic teachings from Matthew's special material relate to the concrete situation addressed by the evangelist in his book, and thus prove to be Matthew's own creations, in which, of course, he picks up many novelistic motifs of Jewish parabolic teachings. We always have to do with an integrated story, but not the end product of a longer history of tradition, that might be disclosed by inner tensions and discontinuities in the narrative. The basic characteristic of the situation in which and for which Matthew writes is the emerging separation of the Christian community from the synagogue as the consequence of the Pharisaic restoration after the Jewish war. Whoever cannot align themselves with the Pharisaic orientation must leave the synagogue. At the time of Matthew, this process of separation, which involved not only Christians, is still not fully completed. To avoid persecution, Christians still attempt to legalize themselves vis-à-vis the Roman state as members of the synagogue by payment of the Temple tax. "False prophets," who appeal to Jesus, apparently strive to draw the Christians over into the Pharisaic synagogue (Mt 7:15-21; 24:10f). Their identity, to be sure, cannot be discerned with certainty, but Matthew makes the same accusation of "lawlessness" against them (Mt 7:23; 13:41; 42:14) as he does against the Pharisees (Mt 23:28), because both conceal inner corruption beneath exterior gloss and lustre (Mt 7:15; 23:27f), and both therefore must be recognized by their fruit (Mt 7:16-20; 12:33-37). Thus, the conflict between the Pharisaic rabbinate and Matthew's Christianity has long since become unreconcilable (Mt 23:1-36) and permits no more compromise. Matthew accuses the Pharisees of "lawlessness" because they do not do what they teach (Mt 23:27f) and sets the commandment of love as the fulfillment of the law over against their external casuistry (Mt 5:17-26). The conflict with the Pharisees leads to heavy persecution by the synagogue ruled by them and by the Roman court (Mt 10:17-26; 24:9f). This is the situation in which the parabolic material from the special source of Matthew's gospel should be located.

The judgment of the world portrayed in Mt 25:31-46 is promulgated not over the Christian community, but over the nations, and these are judged according to how they have conducted themselves with regard to the persecuted, dispossessed, exiled or imprisoned Christians (cf. Mt 10:40-42). On the one hand, this provides comfort for Christians; on the other hand, however, it should be understood as a warning for Gentiles, among whom, in Matthew's eyes, not the least important are the numerous God-fearers, who continue to be tolerated in the Pharasaic synagogue no more than Christians. Among them, Christians could most likely find understanding and support; and the one who judges the world will regard the way those persons who have been forced back into paganism conduct themselves towards Christians as if it had been done to himself.

The well-known parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-15), who receive the same compensation for working a different lengths of time, and whose complaining about such injustice is not without merit, is hardly suited in itself for deducing the will of God in a general way, but must have specific circumstances in view. And since it is addressed to the disciples, or as the case may be, to those community members in Matthew's own time, who refer to the faithful discipleship they have maintained for a long while (Mt 19:27-29), it embodies the appeal to these Christians to recognize "late comers" as fully valid members of the community. It is also very possible that more than a few god-fearing Gentiles, having been excluded from the synagogue, joined the Christian community-according to Mt 3:14f., it was expected that they would allow themselves to be baptized-in which they were spared from returning again to paganism, and which furthermore provided that religious support which they had found in the synagogue. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard appeals to Christians not to burden such persons with the fact that they only later first found their way into the Christian community, but to welcome them into their midst as equally entitled brothers and sisters.

The parable of the two sons (Mt 21:28-32) is addressed to the Jewish leaders. The Jews appear in the figure of the second son, who declares that he is ready to work in the vineyard, but does not go to work. Matthew explains that in a similar way the Jews did not believe John when he came to them in the "way of righteousness," taking up a statement from the Sayings Source (Lk 7:29f), which he removes from its original location. And even later they did not allow themselves to be diverted from this rejection, as Matthew establishes with regard to the Jewish leaders of his own time (cf. Mt 21:45). Therefore, these "sons of the kingdom" will be cast into the outer darkness (Mt 8:15). On the other hand, the first son, who at first refuses to work, but then does the will of his father, resembles those tax collectors and sinners from the past who followed John's preaching of repentance. In Matthew's time they can hardly represent Christians in general, to whom an original "no" cannot be imputed, but probably represent Gentile members of the synagogue, who remained distant from the Christian community for a long time, but now turn to it because, like the tax collectors and sinners dispised by the Pharisees, they must leave the synagogue; in 18:17 Matthew employs "Gentile" and "tax collector" as equivalent concepts.

A corresponding background can also be perceived in Matthew's reworking of the traditional parable of the marriage feast (Mt 22:1-14). Matthew clearly identifies the invited guests, who would not come, with the Jews, since Matthew also takes up the destruction of Jerusalem into his narrative, which he interprets as punishment for their conduct, and thus relates it directly to his own time. The "bad and the good," who are brought in from the streets and present themselves at the wedding feast in place of the invited guests, must also have such an actual reference. It refers to the God-fearing Gentiles, who because they are no longer tolerated in the synagogue and thus are forced to "stand in the streets," but do not want to return to paganism, now find acceptance in the Christian community. The parable of the wedding garment (Mt 22:11-14), with which Matthew supplements-in a clumsy way, from a narrative perspective-the parable he obtained from the Sayings Source expresses the expectation that the new guests will behave in a way appropriate to the occasion for the invitation. Matthew demands, therefore, that they become full members of the community. The Christian community can only become a new home for them if they put on the marriage garment, and thus become real Christians, allowing themselves to be baptised (cf. Mt 3:14f) and submitting themselves to the discipline of the community (Mt 18:15-18).

Matthew obviously places great value on the parable of the tares among the wheat, which he relates in Mt 13:24-30, making use of motifs from the parable of the seed growing by itself (Mk 4:26-29), and for which he provides an allegorical interpretation in 13:36-43. Jüicher already perceived correctly that the story and the interpretation are reciprocally related with one another and that both derive from the same hand.33 Even without the accompaning explicit interpretation, the point of the allegory would be fully understandable: the community should not anticipate the comming judgment of God, for otherwise there is danger of rooting up a good plant, i.e., rejecting an upstanding Christian. To be sure, the precise instruction concerning the carrying out of church discipline in Mt 18:15-18, which regulates the process for exclusion from the community, is also a piece of Matthew's redaction, so a hardly bearable tension would result if one wanted to relate the allegory of wheat and tares, which precisely excludes such a distinction between "good" and "evil," to the same community that practiced a strict church discipline. The interpretation of the field as the world (13:38) would also be unfortunate if the field represented the community in which false teachers have announced their presence. In the interpretation, however the word "tares" refers to persons who practice temptation and spread lawlessness, persons therefore who are met with elsewhere in Matthew (Mt 7:23; 12:35; 18:6-9; 23:28; 24:10-12). It has to do with false prophets (Mt 7:15, 22; 24:11), who by an appeal to Jesus (Mt 7:22) apparently attempt to keep Christians in the synagogue and win them over for their Pharisaic way. In any case, they go their own way and endeavor to win Christians in Matthew's community for themselves. The allegory, therefore, has those still unresolved circumstances in view in which the separation of the Christian community is taking place and inner-Christian conflict also arises. Matthew perhaps regards the collapse of Pharisaic activity and the further participation of Christians on the synagogue as still not impossible, and he may reckon with the possibility that there are also still Christians in the synagogue who are afraid to declare their faith openly, as the Gospel of John explicitly attests in a similar situation: "... many believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it. lest they should be put out of the synagogue" (Jn 12:42; cf. 3:2; 7:50-52). In any case, Matthew does not want to entirely lose those Christians who do not belong to his own community. The allegory of the tares and the wheat thus warns members of Matthew's community not to create established fact prematurely and write off all those persons who have not joined them.

This idea corresponds to the interpretation Matthew gives to the traditional parable of the lost sheep. To begin with, it means, in a saying of Jesus: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me" (Mt 18:5). Then, after Matthew has emphatically warned those tempters who want to retain for themselves the "little ones who believe in Jesus" (Mt 18:6-9), he admonishes the community, referring to the parable of the lost sheep, to attend to these "little ones," whose angels continually behold the face of the heavenly father, for "it is not the will of your heavenly father that one of these little ones should perish" (Mt 18:10-14). This sequence in Matthew's Gospel obviously has real children in view who, as the consequence of persecution, have lost their parents through death or exile, and regarding whom conflict has arisen between the Christian community and the synagogue, or between two Christian communities, about their future and where they belong.

Since the Gospel writer's tolerant attitude toward Christians who do not join his community could be misunderstood in such a way as to justify a reservation with regard to confession, Matthew directly adds to the interpretation of his allegory of the wheat and the tares the little parables about the treasure in a field (Mt 13:44) and the costly pearl (13:45f), which issue an unmistakable summons to stake everything on one card and, for the sake of the one thing that the Christian faith grants, to let go of all other security. This seems to be a clear admonition for undecided Christians, who Love the praise of men more than praise from God" (Jn 12:43). Matthew certainly expects members of his community to refrain from making rash judgments concerning others, but at the same time there is not doubt that unqualified commitment and unreserved decision are required for all Christians.

With the parable of the fish net and its interpretation (Mt 13:47-50), Matthew concludes the relating of seven(!) parables that he grouped together in 13:1-50, and indeed, as he expressly affirms in retrospect, as a teacher of the kingdom of God, who like a good householder brings forth from his treasure something old and something new (Mt 13:52). The something new also includes the concluding parable of the fish net, whose allegorizing interpretation, which isolates the idea of judgment from the allegory of the wheat and the tares, runs fully parallel with the story. In the same way as the field that contains both wheat and tares, useable and unusable fish are found in the net. Just as the unusable fish are sorted out on the beach and thrown away, so will the angels at the end of the age separate the evil ones from the righteous and throw them in the furnace of fire. In his final parable, therefore, Matthew no longer lifts up the tolerant fellowship of good and bad applicable in earthly circumstances, but only the eschatological separation. That is an appropriate conclusion for the collection of parables, which without doubt, rather than having a specific, situation-related teaching in view, aims primarily at this conclusion itself.

The lengthly parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt 18:23-35), which in other respects presupposes a non-Jewish legal relationship and offers a fully integrated story, unfolds the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer, which the story-teller recalls word for word: "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." In the brief interpretation (18:35), Matthew relates his parable expressly to conduct within the Christian brotherhood, and this focus already allows us to suspect that we do not have to do primarily with a generally edifying teaching, for the readiness of Christians to forgive is in itself naturally not limited to fellow Christians. The context in which Matthew places the parable confirms this suspicion. The parable is preceded, first of all, by instructions regarding community discipline (Mt 18:15-18 (20)), which enjoin the gathered community to exclude an unrepentent sinner- presumably in view are primarily differences in teaching relating to exclusion from the synagogue-from their midst and to regard such a person as a "Gentile and a tax collector" (cf. the parable of the wedding garment in Mt 22:11-14). In response to this, Peter asks how often one should forgive his brother (!) (Mt 18:21f.), and Jesus' answer, that readiness for forgiveness is unlimited, then emphatically illustrates the parable of the unforgiving servant. The parable is to be understood, therefore, not only as an illustration but also as a concretizing of the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer. Given the need for church discipline in Matthew's communities, the simultaneous readiness to restore excluded members of the community at any time, if they examine themselves and repent of their misconduct, is remarkable. The community thus passes on in small change the graciousness of God they have received. Even the parable of the unforgiving servant, therefore, accords very well with the redactional interests of Matthew the gospel writer, and there is just as little indication here as in all the other parables from Matthew's special material we have considered that the gospel writer himself did not compose this parable as well.

Only one more piece from Matthew's special material remains to be considered, namely, the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13); and with regard to this parable there is at first a plausible reason to doubt that it was composed by Matthew himself. The interpretation that Matthew gives for this parable states: "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (15:13). The parable that is finally related, however, and which gives no indication of an earlier version and/or secondary reworking, clearly mandates not continual watchfulness, but rather continual preparedness for the coming of the Lord. It cannot be insignificant that according to the story the arrival of the bridegroom is delayed, and if for this reason both the wise and the foolish virgins fall asleep, the exhortation to "watch" seems to miss the meaning of the parable, which clearly has to do with the different ways in which the wise and the foolish virgins prepare for the later arrival of the bridegroom. The parable focusses not on the temporal imminence of the arrival, but on the preparedness, considering the delay in his arrival, to appropriately receive the bridegroom. If the presupposed problem of postponement excludes the possibility that the parable came from the mouth of Jesus, neither does it seem to derive from the pen of Matthew.

In its final scene, however, the parable in fact includes a clear reference to the situation in which the entire Gospel of Matthew originated. The foolish virgins knock on the closed door: "Lord, Lord, open to us," and they receive the answer, "I do not know you" (25:11f). In the same way, in Mt 7:15-23 the apostatized "false prophets," who preach in the name of Jesus, cast out demons, and perform many mighty deeds, also said "Lord, Lord" (7:21), and also received the answer, "I never knew you" (7:23); for "not everyone who says 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my heavenly father" (7:21). The parallel is clear: the foolish virgins, who have no oil in their lamps, are like the false prophets, who do not do the will of Jesus and thus are not prepared when he arrives; but the wise virgins, on the contrary, are always prepared for his arrival, because, as their supply of oil metaphorically indicates, they act in accordance with the will of Jesus. With the parable of the ten virgins, therefore, we directly perceive the situation in which the forceful separation from the synagogue has led to a division among the Christians. In view of the formation of Christian groups who have not joined his own community, Matthew affirms that such persons are not appropriately prepared for the coming of the Lord and that at the end of time the door to the kingdom of God will therefore be closed to them. This means, however, that the parable of the wise and foolish virgins derives from the hand of Matthew the gospel writer. He constructed it analogously to the parable of the wise servant and wicked servant from the Sayings Source (Lk 12:42-46/Mt 24:45-51), and based it on motifs from the parable of the watchful servant, also found in the Sayings Source (Lk 12:26-38), which Matthew himself therefore does not transmit.

The initially plausible objection, therefore, that the Gospel writer could have misunderstood the parable as an admonition to watchfulness, on the contrary, turns out to be itself a misunderstanding. Mt 24:43f. shows that Matthew equates the concepts of "watchfulness" and "preparedness," so that the "watch therefore" used in Mt 25:13 to interpret the parable cannot be taken in a narrow temporal sense, but must refer to continual preparedness, as the wise virgins demonstrate, but the foolish virgins regretfully do not. Here as everywhere else, Matthew employs the motif of watchfulness no longer with reference to the expectation of an imminent arrival of a new age, but in view of the uncertainty concerning when the End will come, relates it to the wise foresight of those for whom the coming of the End at any time will never be a surprise because they are always equipped for it.

Literary Parabolic Teachings in Mark and the Sayings Source

TRADITION-HISTORICAL ANALYSIS of the parabolic teachings in the Gospel of Mark and the Sayings Source cannot begin with special material which these sources elaborate. For in contrast to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, for Mark and the Sayings Source we do not have access to comparable written sources. Nevertheless, with regard to individual parabolic teachings in Mark and the Sayings Source, it can be said, in view of their form, that their origin must have been literary in character and, because of their content, that they cannot have derived from the preaching of Jesus.

In the case of Mark, the issue has to do first of all with the parable of four kinds of soil (Mk 4:3-8), for which an interpretation follows in 4:14-20. The story and its interpretation stand in such complete agreement with one another that one must conclude that the parable was drafted on the basis of its interpretation. If this conclusion, which already occured to Jülicher, is often contested, this is based not on persuasive exegetical observations, but on the prior conviction that a primitive version of the parable of the four soils must go back to the preaching of Jesus. In reality, however, we have to do with an original literary exposition that does not disdain allegorical methods and employs well known metaphors of seed, sower, soil, and fruit, but which discloses no traces of secondary reworking in the story and its interpretation. The subject of the parabolic teaching also locates this in the time of the later community, which already knows tribulation and persecution "on account of the word" and in which the "secularization" is gaining ground. To determine the occasion and intention of the parable of the four soils more precisely, of course, would require disclosure and analysis of the literary context in which it originally belonged, which has been carried out in another connection.34 Such an analysis shows that the parable has in view all the members of the Christian community, including the catechumens. It holds up a mirror before the eyes of them all, urging them to be like the fruitful soil, and at the same time lets the catechumens know what they are in for if they become full members of the community.

With the images of the vineyard, the vine-grower and the expected fruit taken from Isa 5:1f., 7, the parable of the wicked tenants (Mk 12:1-11) employs a similar metaphorical method as the parable of the four soils, and in both cases the allegorical elements of the story are unmistakable: God is the owner of the vineyard who first sends his servants, the prophets, and then his only beloved son to the vineyard to collect the produce of the garden. An explicit interpretation is not required, for the reader understands the illustrative story as well as the chief priests do, concerning whom it is said in 12:12 that they perceived that Jesus had referred to them with the picture of the wicked tenants. Understood in terms of its interpretation, the story is compelling and stylistically complete in itself. There is therefore no reason to trace it back to a "primitive" version, which nevertheless often happens; and since it has the death and resurrection of Jesus as its subject and presupposes the appointment of Jesus as the powerful Son of God, it cannot already have belonged to the preaching of Jesus. Furthermore, its formal structure and differentiated content necessitates the assumption that it is a literary creation. In this case as well, a precise determination of its occasion and intention presupposes consideration of the parable's original literary context.35 It is addressed to the chief priests who take Jesus to task on account of his cleansing of the Temple, and gives notice that their doom is imminent and that the worship service which they conduct with his gifts, will be placed in the hands of others. The narrator obviously already looks back on the destruction of the Temple; and he conceives the Christian community as the group of new tenants, namely, as the holy priesthood, and the Christian worship service as the place, foreseen in the salvation plan of God and arranged for long ago, where the salvation gifts of God, the "inherited portion" in the parable's picture, are rightly administered.

The Sayings Source also has two parables that already by their form show themselves to be redactional elaborations, since otherwise the Sayings Source contains only similitudes in the narrow sense, i.e., which portray a circumstance that assumes spontaneous agreement: Who among you would not also... The parable of the great meal (Lk 14:16-24/Mt 22:2-14) and the parable of the entrusted money (Lk 19:12-27/Mt 25:14-30), in contrast, report in narrative breadth a throughly unusual solitary case. Both are graphically related and bear metaphorical or, as the case may be, allegorical features. Their figurative material is also known from early Jewish parables. Their original versions can be reconstructed from parallel synoptic traditions with relative certainty.

Even with regard to content, both parables direct us to a later time. Luke may have transmitted the parable of the great meal with relatively little reworking. To be sure, one gladly identifies those who were first invited to the great meal, but in the decisive moment did not appear, with pious Jews, and those invited afterwards from the streets and alleys with the sinners and tax collectors around Jesus. But it is difficult to maintain that these had not been invited until then. Not invited, however, in pre-Christian times, were the Gentiles; and the parable is related therefore from the perspective of a largely Gentile-Christian community, which connects their own invitation into the reign of God with the unsucessful mission among the Jews already complained about by Paul (Rom 9:1-5). While Paul, however, still hopes for the eschatological conversion of Israel (Rom 11:25-27), the writer of the parable of the great meal regards the Jews to be already difinitively excluded from salvation. He writes, therefore, only after the definitive separation of Christians from the synagogue, thus towards the end of the first century.

The parable of the entrusted money was reworked very little by either Matthew or Luke, but on the whole is better transmitted by Matthew. It seems to have been constructed as the striking conclusion to the Sayings Source, which, as is well known, contained no passion narrative or Easter stories, and not inappropriately brings the final judgment into view in which every Christian must render an account to his returning Lord. They are obligated to this accounting in view of the "wealth" that the absent nobleman, in whom one easily recognizes the exalted Jesus, has entrusted to his servants. They are the gifts of the Spirit which the Christian must make the most of. And even if these gifts are distributed in different ways, or, as the case may be, produce an effect of different magnitude, all Christians must do what they can, and none may bury their treasure. Although some details of the interpretation may remain in doubt, the parable nevertheless clearly reflects the situation of the abiding community, which approaches the end of the age, but which must also give a good account of itself in the meantime.

The Parabolic Teachings from the Sayings Tradition

THE PARABOLIC TEACHINGS that still remain to be discussed are generally traditions that Matthew and/or Luke took over from the Sayings Source, whereby in most cases Luke's rendition of the text from the Sayings Source is more reliable. In some cases Mark transmits a "doublet" to this parabolic material, or perhaps a parable of his own that derives from the same sayings tradition. In this range of tradition we encounter, without exception, parables in the narrow sense, which only seldom accumulate individual parabolic features. The transition from the language of figures and comparisons to fully developed parables is fluid; and one can doubt, for example, whether the teachings about the narrow door and the difficult way (Lk 13:24/Mt 7:13f), about the salt that loses its spice (Mk 9:49-50, par), or about girded loins and burning lamps (Lk 12:35) should be assigned to one category or the other.

Some pieces of this tradition clearly belong to wisdom thought, namely, the parable of the tree that is known by its fruit (Lk 7:43-44/My 7:15-20; 12:33) and the antithetical twin-parable of the house built on the rock or on the sand (Lk 6:47-49/Mt 7:24-27). Otherwise, however, the parables apparently belong wholly in the sphere of an apocalyptic eschatology, as a survey of the relevant material shows.

When Jesus relates his exorcisms to the eschatological victory over the demons and the accusation of being in league with Satan is made against him, he defends himself with the parable of Beelzebul (Lk 11:17-22/Mt 12:25-29/k 3:23-26). The parable of the eye as the lamp of the body urges that attention be given to the one thing that is necessary at the end of time (Lk 11:34-35/Mr 6:22-23). The parables of the closed door (Lk 13:25-27' cf. Mt 7:21-23; 25:10-12) and settling with one's accuser (Lk 12:58-59; cf. Mt 5:25-26) call to mind that the time for repentance is short and that there is a "too late."36 With a powerful metaphor, the parables of the watchful servants (Lk 12:36-38; cf. Mt 13:33-37), the watchful householder (Lk 12:39/Mt 24:43) and the wise and foolish stewards (Lk 12:36-39; cf. Mk 13:33-37) call for watchfulness in view of the imminent arrival of the eschatological Judge. However one interprets the significance of the references to changes in weather (Lk 12:54-56/Mt 16:2-4) and changes in seasons (Mk 13:28-29), one cannot overlook the allusion to the end of time. In the parable of the imploring son the community is summoned to urgently pray for the coming of the reign of God (Lk 11:11-12/Mt 7:9-10). The parable of the lost sheep, which Matthew reworked somewhat less than Luke, urges that no one among those who are waiting for the coming of the reign of God should be left behind (Lk 15:4-7/Mt 18:12-13). Against those persons who doubt the coming of the reign of God, the parables of the mustard seed (Lk 13:18/Mt 13:31-32/Mk 4:31-32), the leaven (Lk 13:20/Mt 13:33), and the seed growing by itself (Mk 4:26-29) show that precisely where nothing is to be expected everything is surprisingly imparted. The critical reaction of many Jewish hearers to the eschatological preaching of repentance by John the Baptizer, who was reproached for his asceticism, and Jesus, who was criticized for his liberalism, is reflected in the parable of the children playing (Lk 7:31-34/Mt 11:16-19).

The appearance of individual wisdom parables together with numerous eschatological parables is characteristic of the traditions presupposed by the Sayings Source in general, in which some wisdom material appears alongside predominantly apocalyptic sayings. From this observation it can be recognized that the sayings tradition collected in the Sayings Source did not have a unified origin. For the apocalyptic expectation of the end of this age and the joy in creation found in the wisdom teachings can hardly have been originally united, and the sayings tradition known to Mark seems to have contained only apocalyptic material. However one decides this question, the primary stream of this tradition, the message of the end of this world and the imminence of the reign of God, refers back to the proclamation of Jesus, which to this extent constitutes the basic component of the synoptic gospels. And since this tradition is uniformly oriented on the eschatological message of the imminent reign of God, the individual parables are understandable from this perspective even if they are accompanied by no corresponding reference or explicit interpretation.

The question that cannot be decided, however, is how far the eschatological parables individually derive from Jesus himself, how far they possibly already belonged to the earlier message of the Baptizer, or how far they are community creations, formulated in view of the delayed advent of the new age. Nor can it be decided to what extent they were transmitted in oral or written form, or when an oral tradition became a written one. The Sayings Source used by Matthew and Luke, in any case, was a written source, and the "doublets" and other material for which Mark was indebted to the sayings tradition may also have derived from a written source, to which indeed the "let the reader understand" (Mk 13:14) in the eschatological discourse directly refers. But even if the writing down of oral tradition began very early, or even if we assume the presence of a written tradition from the very beginning, and apart from the question to what extent the parables lead directly back to Jesus, an explanation must be given for the fact that this eschatological-apocalyptic parable tradition is not found outside the Sayings Source or the synoptic traditions.

Can one attempt to explain this observation, which is not always clearly taken into account, with Ernst Käsemann's information that while Jesus certainly began with the apocalyptic message of John the Baptizer, he broke with this and proclaimed the presence of the God who is near at hand?37 He supposedly called people to daily service of God, as if, given the immediacy of the grace of God, there were no shadows over the world. The apocalyptic expectation of the imminent end of this age, on the other hand, first derives from the primitive community; it is rooted in the experience of Jesus' cross and resurrection, and divorces itself from Jesus' preaching of the God who is near. Does the post-Easter origin of the apocalyptic parables, which is presupposed by Käsemann's construction, explain the tradition-historical findings that these parabolic teachings are first encountered relatively late in the already literary synoptic tradition? Käsemann's conception of earliest Christian history, however, presupposes that the apocalyptic parables and the corresponding sayings of the Jesus-tradition were transmitted, or constructed, in connection with the confession of the cross and resurrection and the designation of Jesus as the Christ and the powerful Son of God. But nowhere do they show the slightest trace of such a horizon for their origin or transmission. Characteristic of the apocalyptic material is rather the lack of any relationship with the early Christian kerygma and the absence of any reference to christology. On the other hand, nothing in connection with the kerygmatic and christological formulas already widespread in Paul points to the apocalyptic parables of the Jesus tradition. Moreover, if one considers the entire parable tradition, Käsemann's conception turns the situation remarkably upside down; for according to his conception, the later parabolic teachings, which owe their origin to the writing activity of the evangelists, stand nearer to the original message of Jesus than earlier parables that possibly still belong to an oral phase of the tradition. One cannot attribute any kind of historical probability to such a historical construction.

When these tradition-historical problems became apparent, Christian Hermann Weisse, the father of the two-source theory, declared, for example, that the sayings source was a private record of memories of the apostle Matthew and first found wide use in the church at a relatively late date. Athanasius Polag's statement, that the pre-Easter tradition in the sayings source was not collected out of keygmatic interests, but owes its transmission to "historical concerns" of the community,38 points basically in the same direction. In this regard, the Gospel of Mark sufficiently shows how little early Christianity was willing and able to transmit pre-Easter Jesus traditions as such, i.e., with no reference to their christological kerygma. Siegfried Schulz, therefore, is in principle correct when he traces the sayings tradition along with the apocalyptic material back to an independent community.39 Contrary to Schulz, however, in view of the fact that the Easter confession and, accordingly, a christology is foreign to this tradition, and that Jesus, like John, appeared on the scene as a prophet, who announced the imminent inbreaking of the reign of God, this Q-community must have persisted in the pre-Easter situation. It cannot be assumed that the confession that God raised Jesus from the dead reached all the followers of Jesus, or, as the case may be, convinced them all.

The history of this community of Jesus' followers who persisted in the pre-Easter situation cannot be explored in more detail in the present work.40 These followers may have had their home in Galilee, and were dispersed into the domain of the hellenistic Jewish synagogue in the course of the Jewish war. Some information concerning their encounter with a christologically constituted community is provided by Mark's messianic secret theory, which endeavors to remedy the christological deficit in this community of Jesus' followers by explaining how and why the messianic sovereignty of Jesus could have remained hidden from them. This situation is also reflected in the controversial "parable theory" in Mk 4:10-12, 21-25, which explains that the parables are intended to publicly conceal "the secret of the reign of God" - particularly the messianic identity of Jesus-and that their meaning was made known only to a select circle.41 The fact that the Sayings Source and its pre-christological material, with the help of christological redaction, to be sure, found its way into the Christian synoptic tradition shows that at the time of Mark this persisting pre-Easter community of Jesus' followers had accepted, entirely or in part, the christological confession offered in this way and had joined with the early catholic church. By this path, towards the end of the second Christian generation, the early apocalyptic-eschatological parables flowed into the stream of synoptic tradition.

In contrast, the kerygmatic Easter community of the apostolic age did not transmit these parables any more than they did other teachings of Jesus. This deficit is not based on a rejection of the preaching of the earthly Jesus. Rather, the early Christian confession that God raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 4:24; 8:11; 2 Cor 4:14; Gal 1:1) stands in direct continuity with Jesus' message of the imminent reign of God, as the earliest interpretation of this event shows, which perceives Jesus' resurrection as the beginning of the general resurrection and refers to Jesus as the "first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20; Rev 1:5; Col 1:18; etc.). Early Christianity experienced this Easter event as the fulfillment of the expectation awakened by Jesus and as the beginning of the eschatological New that Jesus announced: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come" (2 Cor 5:17). Christology and soteriology, as taught in the earliest doctrinal and confessional formulations, are expressions of the certainty of fulfillment. In the fulfillment, however, the expectation expressed in the preaching of Jesus is "aufgehoben&" in the double sense of this word ("given up" or "raised up"). The prophetic message of Jesus in the form of expectation is given up and, at the same time, preserved in the form of fulfillment. This fundamental theological phenomenon explains why the preaching of the earthly Jesus as such is not found in the sphere of the christological and soteriological kerygma. This material flowed into the synoptic tradition only in a tradition-historical roundabout way and in literary form, and possibly motivated the active production of parabolic teachings that we consequently observe on the redactional level of the gospel writings.

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1 Adolf Jülicher, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, Vol. 1, 1886, 21899; Vol. 2, 1899.

2 Ibid., Vol. 1, 24.

3 Ibid., 23.

4 Cf. also M. Black, "The Parables as Allegory," BJRL 42 (1960), 273-287.

5 P. Fiebig, Altjüdische Gleichnisse und die Gleichnisse Jesu (1904), 163.

6 J. Weiss, Die Predigt Jesus vom Reich Gottes (1892).

7 L. Ragaz, Die Gleichnisse Jesu (1943).

8 J. Jeremias. Die Gleichnisse Jesu (1947, 61962), 5.

9 Ibid., 115.

10 Ibid., 227.

11 C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (1935), 11.

12 D. O. Via, Die Gleichnisse Jesu (1970).

13 E. Jüngel, Paulus und Jesus (1962), 135.

14 H. Weder, Die Gleichnisse Jesu als Metaphern (1980).

15 E. Linnemann, Gleichnisse Jesu (1961, 51969), 46.

16 F. Vouga, "Jesus als Erzähler," WuD 19 (1987), 63-85.

17 A. Schweitzer, Geschichte der Leben Jesu Forschung (1906, 21913).

18 M. Dibelius, Die Formgeschichte des Evangeliums (21933), 255.

19 R. Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (21931), 216 (Bultmann's emphasis)

20 Ibid., 222 (Bultmann's emphasis).

21 Cf. H.-J. Klauck, Allegorie und Allegorese in synoptischen Gleichnissen (1978).

22 Fiebig (supra, n. 5).

23 Weder (supra, n. 15), 97.

24 See, e.g., W. Kelber, The Hermeneutics of Speaking and Writing in the Synoptic Tradition, Paul, Mark, and Q (1983).

25 E. Guttgemanns, Offene Fragen zur Formgeschichte des Evangeliums (1970), 201.

26 F. Vouga (supra, n. 16).

27 Weder (supra, n. 14), 297.

28 Linnemann (supra, n. 15), 13.

29 See C. Thoma and H. Ernst, Die Gleichnisse der Rabbinen, Vol. 1 (1986); 2 (1991); 3 (1996).

30 See K. G. Eckart, "Plutarch und seine Gleichnisse," ThViat 11 (1973), 57-81; K. Berger, "Hellenistische Gattungen im Neuen Testamentm" ANRW II 25.2 (1984), 1031-1432, esp., 1110-1124; D. Dormeyer, Das Neue Testament im Rahmen der antiken Literaturgeschichte (1993), 140-159.

31 Bultmann (supra, n. 19), 192. The attempt by W. Harnish (Die Gleichniserzählungen Jesu [21990], 84-97) to ascribe also the four Lukan example stories to the category of parables is unconvincing.

32 The images in the parable of the two sons seem to derive from hellenistic rhetoric: cf. L. Schottroff, "Das Gleichnis vom verlorenen Sohn," ZThK 68 (1971), 27-52.

33 Jülicher (supra, n. 1), Part 1, 555.

34 W. Schmithals, Das Evangelium nach Markus (21986), 226-237.

35 Ibid., 511-523.

36 The puzzeling story of the dishonest steward found in Luke's special material (Lk 16:1-7) could be included here as well, if it raises up the conduct of the dishonest steward as exemplary in that he makes decisive use of his last opportunity. To be sure, as a full-fledged parable with a highly alienating effect, it would represent a foreign element among the eschatological parables in the sayings tradition.

37 E. Käsemann, "Die Anfänge christlicher Theologie," ZRhK 57 (1960), 162-185; idem, "Zum Thema der urchristlichen Apokalyptik," ZThK 59 (1962), 257-284. Käsemann is essentially followed by S. Schulz, Q - Die Spruchquelle der Evangelisten (1977), as well as Vouga (supra, n. 16).

38 A. Polag, Die Christologie der Logienquelle (1977).

39 S. Schulz (supra, n. 37).

40 In this regard, and with reference to the sketch that follows, see W. Schmithals, Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien (1985), 384-404.

41 See W. Schmithals, Das Evangelium nach Markus (1986), 237-247.

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Copyright © Institute for Higher Critical Studies, 1996

Darrell J. Doughty
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